In character as the news anchor Ron Burgundy, Will Ferrell managed to keep his perfectly coiffed hair and mustache intact as he kissed Dean of the School of Communication Phillip Glenn on the head. With tears in his eyes, the fictitious newsman accepted a plaque commemorating his arrival.
On Wednesday, Dec. 4, Emerson’s School of Communication was temporarily renamed the Ron Burgundy School of Communication to honor the protagonist of Anchorman and the upcoming Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, which Ferrell has been promoting in-character for several months. The renaming ceremony was held in the Tufte Building’s Semel Theater, with over 100 members of the professional and student press and 40 students in attendance.
“This is a big moment for me,” said the fictional newscaster as he shook hands with President M. Lee Pelton. “I’m literally in a glass case of emotion right now.”
After accepting the award, Ferrell said a few words of gratitude at the podium as the San Diego anchorman, a role he embraced for the entire day.
“I want to say a few words about my father … who said I wouldn’t amount to anything,” said Ferrell, in character. “Dad, if you can hear me up there … I just wanted to say, ‘Dad, you can bite me … ‘Cause Ron Burgundy has his own school of communication.’”
The renaming of the school of communication was in effect for 24 hours, “and not a minute more,” according to Pelton.
Matt Labov, Ferrell’s publicist, who graduated from Emerson with a degree in journalism in 1990, said in an interview with the Beacon after the press conference that it was his idea to bring in Burgundy to Emerson. He said he began to discuss the idea about a year ago with Barbara Ruthberg, Emerson’s associate vice president of development and alumni relations, and Jeffrey Schoenherr, vice president of development and alumni relations.
“From a publicist perspective, I thought, ‘How cool would it be to get a journalism school to rename itself after Will Ferrell’s character?’” Labov said. “I was trying to come up with a creative idea.”
Pelton approved the plan in late summer, said Labov, and the college and the film’s studio, Paramount, agreed on a date for the event.
When Ferrell appeared as Burgundy on the late night talk show Conan last month, he claimed that before landing on Emerson, Columbia University and New York University had declined to host him. Labov said that Ferrell was not speaking seriously when he made those comments. James Devitt, deputy director of media relations for NYU, said in an interview with the Beacon he was unaware of any request to host Burgundy at the college that went through his office.
As part of the marketing campaign for Anchorman 2, to be released on Dec. 18, Ferrell has also delivered the local news in North Dakota, interviewed Peyton Manning for SportsCenter, and shot commercials for the Dodge Durango. Additionally, early screenings of his new movie premiered at the AMC Loews Boston Common theater Wednesday night, opened to 600 Emerson students for free.
Andrew Tiedemann, vice president for communications and marketing, wrote in an email to the Beacon that the event was also a way to raise awareness about Emerson’s academic programs.
“Perhaps students across the country who may or may not have been aware of us might now take a look at our programs,” wrote Tiedemann.
The event was not expensive, according to Tiedemann. He said Paramount Studios paid for Ferrell’s travel and lodging. The college paid for minor expenses related to the press conference, such as production of the plaque and press passes, which were split between the Office of Alumni Relations and Development and the Office of Communications and Marketing, said Tiedemann.
“Even if it was just for one day, our community and the public would find it was refreshing that we don’t always take ourselves too seriously,” Tiedemann wrote.
Despite the event’s humorous tone, some students and faculty members disagreed with the college’s decision to host a fictitious movie character.
Mike Beaudet, a journalism professor, wrote in an email to the Beacon that although Ferrell’s visit to Emerson was a brilliant marketing scheme, he had some concerns.
“I think we have to take the visit for what it is,” wrote Beaudet, who is a graduate of Emerson’s class of 1992. “But there is certainly something a little unsettling about a reputable journalism school embracing a fictional character who is making fun of local TV news, especially when many (if not most) of the successful Emerson journalism school graduates are actually working in local TV news.”
Bri Velez, a sophomore writing, literature, and publishing major who attended the event, said she didn’t glean any advice from Ferrell’s speech, but enjoyed it nonetheless.
“Initially, I was very excited to be in the same room as someone so talented. I think he handled every question very well, and showed everyone how great he is at improv,” Velez said.
With his temporary namesake, Ferrell’s Burgundy said he planned to cancel all classes from Tuesday through Friday; install a pool, bowling alley, and jacuzzi on campus; and give away a free car to each student upon graduation—among other ideas.
After the brief naming ceremony, Ferrell answered questions from reporters in full character, and provided some indispensable advice. Ferrell said he did not receive formal training in broadcasting—he simply walked into San Diego’s Channel 4 television studio and was serendipitously offered a full-time job.
“Of course you have to report the facts, unless it’s too hard to find the facts,” he offered to aspiring journalists. “It really is about hygiene. … Don’t be afraid to be stylish in front of the camera.”
He recommended job-seekers use a leave-in conditioner three times a week and keep a $20 bill sewn to the inside of their shoe in case of emergencies, like finding themselves in a Peruvian prison.
The fictional newscaster, who is known for his camera-ready looks, offered not only career advice, but tips for leading an important, fulfilling life.
“I read The Secret, I drink very expensive, finely-made cognacs, brandy, and scotch, and take a little bit of [Human Growth Hormone],” he said.
The character said he ranked Boston as one of his top 400 favorite cities, and planned to take advantage of his time in Beantown.
“I’m going to sneak into Fenway,” he said, “steal a hunk of sod, fry it up in my Hibachi that I keep in my Winnebago, and eat it.”
Mixon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.